Giovanni Maria Vian on the Pope's Bear

Reflects on Inauguration of Rome’s Parish of St. Corbinian

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 26, 2011 ( Here is the commentary of Giovanni Maria Vian, director of L’Osservatore Romano, the semi-official newspaper of the Vatican, in which he reflects on Benedict XVI’s visit last Sunday to the southern outskirts of Rome, where he inaugurated the diocese’s newest parish, St. Corbinian.

The parish’s patron is dear to this Pontiff, as St. Corbinian was the first bishop of Freising, a post the young Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger would take in 1977. The Pope’s coat of arms has Corbinian’s bear.

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At least three successors of the founder of the Diocese of Freising were present at the dedication of the Roman Parish of San Corbiniano — an exemplary liturgy because of the care and participation of the faithful, including a large number of children: in addition to Joseph Ratzinger, today Pope with the name of Benedict XVI, Cardinal Friedrich Wetter and Cardinal Reinhard Marx. An exceptional fact, that the parish priest emphasized in his warm initial greeting.

In his homily the Bishop of Rome, successor of the first of the Apostles, improvised a brief reflection on this French monk, attracted by the contemplative life, who went south to Rome to found a monastery there. But here his life unexpectedly changed. The Pope ordained him Bishop of Bavaria, where the population «wanted to become Christian. However, there was a lack of educated people and a lack of priests to preach the Gospel.»

Gregory II’s decision proved to have a universal dimension — the saint in fact, «connects France, Germany and Rome,» the Pope underlined — and at the same time unity: Corbinian tells us that «the Church is founded on Peter» and that she was «the same Church that she is today» for a very simple reason: Christ is the same, «Truth, ever old and ever new, very up to date, present, and the key opening the future.»

Speaking to the faithful, Benedict XVI mentioned the bear he chose to add to his episcopal, then papal coat of arms. Joseph Ratzinger had first written about it in the autobiographical book — as small as it is precious — which he published on his 70th birthday, and in which he set down his memoirs until his episcopal ordination.

He describes how the monk, on his way to Rome, succeeded in making the animal who had torn his horse to pieces carry his bundle.

Ratzinger, in the tracks of his beloved Augustine, explained that this burden — the episcopal responsibility of anyone who «pulls God’s cart in this world» — was imposed upon Corbinian and upon the African Bishop, attracted by both contemplation and study.

«But in this very way I am close to you, I serve you, you hold me in your hand,» the cardinal, now in Rome, concluded. In entrusting himself to the one Lord, as Benedict XVI does every day, who is as fond of his bear as ever.

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